19 MAY 2017 • VOL 356 ISSUE 6339 697 SCIENCE sciencemag.org
a paper with authors from two countries is likely to spread new ideas
or findings more rapidly across borders than if the paper’s authors
were from the same country. Having a foreign collaborator with a
network of researchers in another country usually attracts overseas
attention to research. In scientific work, China and the United States
are each others’ biggest partners: 16% of U.S. international collaborations are with China, and 48% of China’s international collaborations
are with the United States (4). U.S. corporations conduct research
and patent inventions in China, and Chinese firms buy U.S. start-ups
and patent in the United States. About 15% of author names on
papers written at U.S.-based institutions are Chinese, whose first
names (e.g., Xu rather than David) identify them as born overseas
(5). Connections between migrants and natives on papers, patents,
and citations does not directly measure the migration of ideas, which
requires latent semantic analysis of the content of the underlying
documents. But network links between collaborators from different
countries establish a prima facie case for policies that treat foreign-born students and migrant researchers as valuable contributors to
the United States and home-country scientific and economic progress and as possible future U.S. citizens as well.
1. R.B.Freeman, I.Ganguli, R.Murciano-Goroff,in The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and
Innovation Policy, A. Jaffe and B. Jones, Eds. (University of Chicago Press, 2015), pp. 17–48.
2. G. Borjas, K. Doran, Y. Shen, “Ethnic complementarities after the opening of China: How Chinese
graduate students affected the productivity of their advisors” (NBER Working paper 21096,
NBER, Cambridge, MA, 2015).
3. R.B.Freeman, W.Huang,in Global Mobility of Research Scientists: The Economics of Who Goes
Where and Why, A. Guena, Ed. (Academic Press–Elsevier, 2015), pp. 155–175.
4. National ScienceBoard, Science and Engineering Indicators 2014(National ScienceFoundation,
Arlington, VA, 2014), appendix table 5-56.
5. R.B.Freeman, W.Huang, J.Labor Econ. 33(suppl.1,part2),S289(2015).
Immigrant patents boost growth
There are lively debates in countries around the world as to how to
stimulate economic growth and how much immigrants contribute to
the economy. My research on the U.S. economy shows that skilled
immigration increases patenting, which is likely to boost per capita
economic growth. My analysis of self-reported patent activity in the
National Survey of College Graduates, the only data source tying
patentees to their birthplaces, shows that the foreign-born are twice
as likely to patent as the native-born (1). Although 0.9% of college-educated natives have been awarded one or more patents in the past
5 years and 0.6% have been awarded a patent that has been licensed
or commercialized, the figures for immigrants are 2.0% and 1.3%,
respectively. Among patentees, natives and immigrants have similar
numbers of patents. This immigrant patenting advantage has its
origin in the educational background of immigrants, who are much
more likely than natives to have studied physical sciences and
engineering, fields strongly associated with patenting activity.
Immigrants who first entered the United States on a student or
trainee visa or on a temporary work visa are particularly likely to
patent. However, immigrants’ patenting advantage might not be fully
reflected in overall national patenting activity if natives are deterred
by immigration from entering the relevant fields of study and
occupations. Alternatively, the immigrants’ advantage could be
magnified by collaborations and knowledge transfers, causing
natives themselves to become more inventive. To study this, my
coauthor and I used changing geographic variation in immigration
(measured in the U.S. Census) and patenting activity (measured by
the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) over several decades (2). The
results show that immigration of college-educated individuals
increases patenting per capita and is likely to have increased Gross
Domestic Product per capita by 1.4 to 2.4 percentage points over a
decade. A comparison of these results and the implied effect of the
immigrant-native patenting gap at the individual level suggests that
immigrants have increased the inventiveness of natives. The United
States, and in particular its universities and employers, is successful
in choosing skilled immigrants who boost economic growth per
capita and should consider expanding the number of such immi-
1. J. Hunt, J. Labor Econ. 29, 417 (2011).
2. J. Hunt, M. Gauthier-Loiselle, Am. Econ. J. Macroecon. 2, 31 (2010).
Reservoir of foreign talent
John Bound,11,5 Gaurav Khanna,12,13 Nicolas Morales11
Understanding the impact that increased high-skilled immigration has had on a country’s economy involves evaluating counterfactuals—what would the economy have been like under a more
restrictive immigration policy? We modeled decisions made by U.S.
firms and workers, then used the introduction of the Internet and
the subsequent innovation boom to calibrate these models and
evaluate counterfactuals (1, 2). Our work suggests that the influx
of foreign-born computer scientists since the early 1990s—spurred
by U.S. immigration policy that favors high-skilled workers and
by increases in the availability of foreign talent, particularly from
India—has had several economic impacts. It increased the size
of the U.S. information technology (IT) sector but put downward
pressure on wages of computer scientists and, as a result, discouraged some U.S.-born college graduates from becoming computer
scientists. It increased firms’ profits and benefited consumers via
lower prices and more efficient products. Under our calibrated
model, immigration, enabled by the H-1B visa program, raised
overall worker incomes by 0.2 to 0.3% but decreased wages of U.S.
computer scientists by 2.6 to 5.1% in 2001. Moreover, U.S. workers
switched to other occupations, which lowered the number of domestic computer scientists by 6 to 11% in 2001 (2). The claim that
U.S. employers cannot find enough adequately skilled computer
scientists within the United States appears to be an overstatement.
When demand for computer scientists expanded in the past, it
was met by an increase in college students majoring in computer
science and an increase in employers hiring workers trained in
other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (1,
2). However, the ability to draw from a pool of skilled foreigners
facilitated growth in the U.S. science and technology sector.
The reservoir of foreign talent may have acted as a buffer in the
IT sector, smoothing demand adjustments in the U.S. labor market
and muting wage increases during the IT boom in the 1990s. In
contrast, wages rose rapidly during the booms in the 1970s and
early 1980s, when this large stock of foreign talent was less readily
available (3). Any assessment of the overall impact of skilled immigration would also have to consider the effect it will have on the
position of the United States in the world economy.
1. J. Bound, B. Braga, J. M. Golden, G. Khanna, J. Labor Econ. 33 (suppl. 1, part 2), S187 (2015).
2. J. Bound, G. Khanna, N. Morales, “Understanding the economic impact of the H-1B program
on the U.S.” (NBER working paper 23153, NBER, Cambridge, MA, 2017).
3. J. Bound, B. Braga, J. Golden, S. Turner, Am. Econ. Rev. 103, 203 (2013).